Sun, Sea, Sand and Silicone

This interdisciplinary project looks at Britons and Australians - and some Chinese and Japanese - who participate in cosmetic surgery tourism, and at the countries and people that provide this service. It uses in-depth interviews, video and photo diaries and key on-site observations in order to explore the peculiarly contemporary phenomenon of cosmetic surgery tourism and its connections to global flows of people and capital. Cosmetic surgery tourism has a crucial wider context: it is part of a general medical tourism trend. Women and men travelling abroad for cosmetic surgery are likely to become the pioneers of medical tourism and cosmetic surgery is leading this growth industry because it is a largely privatized healthcare practice.

Professor Ruth Holliday and Dr David Bell discuss the project.

Cosmetic surgery tourism is a new and developing industry that incorporates novel forms of labour and organizational structure that straddle national boundaries. For instance, it is possible for a cosmetic surgery travel agent to collect a patient from their doorstep in the UK or Australia, fly them to Spain or Thailand, transport them from the airport to a hotel near the hospital, allocate a nurse/ guide/ interpreter to be constantly at the patient's side throughout their surgery, recovery and post-surgery tourist 'experiences', before returning them once more to their doorstep. Although the 'credit crunch' has undoubtedly slowed the growth of the cosmetic surgery industry globally, it has simultaneously swelled the numbers prepared to travel for 'cut-price' surgeries made possible by favourable currency exchange rates and lower labour costs outside the richest countries in the world. Little research has yet been conducted on mapping out this new industry and the experiences of those that enter into it. This research aims to broaden our understanding of the modes of operation of the organizations involved, the surgical tourist experience, and the potential implications for a globalized system of healthcare organized around consumption.

The research examines two sites of origin in detail - the UK and Australia - (as well as some tourists from China and Japan) and a number of popular cosmetic surgery tourism destinations including Thailand, Korea, Malaysia, Spain, Poland and Tunisia. The research team is investigating cosmetic surgery tourists, cosmetic surgery tourist agents, care workers, interpreters and tour guides, as well as clinic staff and surgeons. It explores the demand for surgery abroad through individual consumer motivations and charts their experiences and the structure, organisation and experiences of workers in the cosmetic surgery tourism industry. This study represents the first multi-site, empirical and systematic analysis of cosmetic surgery tourism and is being carried out by an internationally renowned research team.

Data from the study will be used to predict some of the key issues facing surgical tourists and healthcare providers in the future, in what will undoubtedly become a more mobile and internationalised market.


Project Publications

See the publications page on the project website1.